Friday, May 3, 2013


From time to time in my classes I try to provide a little fun. I know a “magic” trick, for example, in which I drop a piece of chalk or a paper clip on the floor and then reach down and act like I pick it up, placing my foot over the object. Then, when I open my hand, behold, the item has disappeared. Sometimes there is a savvy student in the class who says, “It’s under your foot; you never picked it up.” I usually say, “You enjoyed ruining my trick, didn’t you?”

Today, since this is the last class day of the semester (I thought the day would never come) I decided to have a little fun in a different way by playing the “snap” game with the class. They had never heard of it. So, I said, I need a volunteer to go out in the hall with me while the rest of you come up with a word, just a single word that you will clandestinely show me (but not the student) when we return to the classroom. Then I will snap to transfer the word to my helper.

When I had the volunteer in the hall, out of earshot of the other students, I explained that the group will give me the word and I will spell it out in code. The first word that comes out of my mouth with be the consonant but I will snap the vowels. One snap is “a,” two snaps indicate “e,” three—“i,” four “o,” five “u.” Then I give the student an example. “Let’s say the word is “dog.” When we go in there, I will learn that word they have selected is dog, and the first word out of my mouth would start with a “d,” as in, “Do you think we can work together,” or something along those lines. Then I would snap four times for “o,” and then say something like, “Got it?” That, you see, would spell the word “dog.” And the class would just think you somehow interpreted the snaps. I indicate consonants by the first word out of my mouth and vowels by the number of snaps.

So, it turns out that this class is smart as in smart-alec. They gave me the word “laconic.” They wanted the game to fail, obviously. The person I had in the hall would certainly not know this word, I thought, so I varied the game. I spelled out the definition of laconic: “brief.” In cluing the student in, I said, “Believe in yourself, now.” I paused a long time, and then said, “Really concentrate.” Then I snapped three times and paused. Then I snapped two times. Then I said, “Finished.” My co-conspirator, a quick study, immediately said, “Brief.” Those who knew the meaning of “laconic” were amazed.” It gave me an opportunity to teach the others what the word meant.

Laconic came from the Greek city of Laconia. Invaders had sent a message into that city saying, “If we come into your town, we will kill you all and burn it to the ground.” The well-fortified citizens of the town sent a one-word message back, “If.” Hence the name for any brief statement became “laconic” after that linguistically economical city.

So, while having fun on the last class day, I was able to do a little vocabulary building, with a little help from my friends.

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